The Canadian Origins of Skiing and Snowboarding
As we time-travel back in our minds, we can put ourselves into the shoes of the first pioneers of skiing, a sport first founded 22,000 years ago.
Sir Arnold Lunn (1888-1974) wrote his own epitaph in the form of a prayer:
Let me give thanks, dear Lord, in the frailty of age, for the beloved mountains of my youth, for the challenge of rock and for the joy of skiing, for the friends with whom I climbed and skied, and above all, dear Lord, for the moments of revelation when the moments of temporal beauty of the mountains reinforces my faith in the eternal beauty which is not subject to decay.
His eloquent words convey the profound influence the mountains of Switzerland had on this Englishman who may be rightly described as the founding father of modern alpine skiing. It was his use of skis as an aid to allow access to mountain climbing in the winter months that became the forerunner of the alpine version of skiing and the extraordinary growth of a sport that spread across the alpine regions of the world. He founded the Alpine Club in 1908, the first such club devoted to the alpine version of skiing. Prior to this, skiing activities had been restricted to the Scandinavian model of langlauf or cross-country and ski jumping.
He continued to seek ways of testing alpine skiing ability that resulted, on January 7th, 1911, in the running of a pivotal event, the first downhill race, the Roberts of Kandahar Challenge Cup, a race which spawned Kandahar events in a number of other countries including Canada, the
Quebec Kandahar, in 1931. This race continues to the present day.
Following the First World War (1914-1918) and a hiatus in international skiing, Sir Arnold continued to winter in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland in the village of Murren, the scene of the second pivotal event. In 1922, still keen to develop events to test alpine skiing ability, he set
the first modern slalom course in which the objective was to negotiate all the gates in the shortest possible time.
He founded the famous Kandahar Ski Club in 1924, and three years later, in 1927, accepted an invitation from the legendary Hannes Schneider to set a slalom course at St Anton, the first of its kind ever held in Austria. The event generated such interest that it was decided that the
Kandahar and Arlberg Clubs should meet the following year for a race, the winner of which would be determined by combining the results of both downhill and slalom events. The first Arlberg Kandahar was held on March 3rd and 4th, 1928. It was the world’s most important alpine competition and continues today as a World Cup event.
Realizing that alpine competition must operate within a framework of rules, Sir Arnold drafted the first rules regulating downhill and slalom events. His efforts in the development of alpine skiing were not universally appreciated:
The Swiss were at first highly suspicious of this crazy British concept of skiing downhill…Some of the British were embarrassed themselves.
They argued that since they skied badly, it was absurd for them to tamper with the rules established by the Norwegians, who skied extremely well. Every other country had followed the Norwegian precedent and organized ski championships for only Langlauf (Cross country) and jumping…a Norwegian claimed that Lunn had done more to harm skiing than “anyone else in the world”
– Financial Times, Saturday January 7, 1989
Sir Arnold, undaunted, persisted, and at the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) conference held in Oslo in 1930, had the downhill and slalom racing events and their rules accepted over the open doubts of the nordic representatives. Alpine skiing was officially born and he began
immediately to organize the first world championships held at Murren, Switzerland, in 1931. A year later, he and Alan d’Egville founded the famous Canadian Quebec Kandahar event.
Acceptance by the FIS was a drawn out process, the result of a number of years of devising and polishing the rules governing alpine events. In the days when the few Alpine-style ski races were pole-riding descents judged on style alone, his 1913 book “Ski-ing” stated that “…the finest and most conclusive test of ski-ing is a (timed) downhill race without sticks”. In 1921, he published the first rules governing downhill racing. A year later, in 1922, at Murren, Switzerland, he devised and published the rules for the first modern slalom race in which a Canadian, R. B. McConnell of Montreal, placed second.
Keen to encourage women to participate in alpine skiing, he was instrumental in founding the Ladies Ski Club, the world’s first ski club for women in 1923. For the first time, in 1936, the Olympic Winter Games held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, included alpine events with
Sir Arnold Lunn officiating at the slalom competition.
In 1937, he established the Duke of Kent races for “citizen racers” to promote international competition between amateur skiers not resident in mountain regions. Today, the Martini Kandahar race meets continue this tradition. Similarly, 11 years later, he organized the Lowlander Championships for the nations of northwest Europe with no alpine terrain.
A man of many interests, Sir Arnold was also a prolific writer with over 50-titles to his credit between 1912 and 1958. A passionate and vocal supporter of many causes, his publications included viewpoints on religion, patriotism, the Franco faction in the Spanish Civil war (he wrote in strong support of Franco’s cause) to Nazism and communism (he denounced both movements). In 1920, he became the editor of the influential British Ski Year Book and remained its editor for the next 50-editions. His many books on skiing trace the evolution of skiing from its Nordic langlauf origins to the emergence of modern alpine techniques and provide a unique record of the development of the sport and his contribution to it.
Among them are Ski-ing (1913), Alpine Ski-ing at All Heights and Seasons (1921), The Complete Ski-Runner (1930), and, The Story of Skiing (1952). As Arnold Midgley noted in a 1974 biographical essay “It takes men of great courage, strength, foresight and character to establish a whole new area of endeavour. Sir Arnold Lunn was such a man. To participate in so many of the developments of the sport over forty years, and to continue a keen interest in the sport until the end was the mark of an extraordinary man…”
Please Note: The ski information gathered here is compiled from a number of sources; it may not be inclusive of all accomplishments.
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Sir Arnold Lunn (middle). CSHFM Collection.
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